Yesterday I received an email from 23andMe, if you are not familiar with them - they sequence your DNA. I didn't open the email. I knew what it was, from the subject 'Your 23andMe results are ready'. This morning, after I had dropped my daughters off at their gymnastics class, my wife had 'popped out' and my son had run off to be grumpy with his teenage mates, I made myself a coffee and opened up my laptop.
I'm not sure why I had started to get nervous about it. When I registered to get the kit, I was very matter of fact about it. I was taking control of my health - I was taking a step towards making better informed choices - I would be able to make lifestyle decisions based on real data, as opposed to averages or guesses. And I was adding data to an enormous database that researchers will be able to use to solve the big medical problems. Good all round. I was very nervous though.
I clicked on the link to be faced with a page that told me I could choose not to see the results. An interim step, but one with the promise of hundreds of disease risks, traits, ancestry details and two hidden results(?), just the other side of accepting the terms and conditions. Click.
The page is split into 4 sections (with the number of findings in brackets): Disease risks (119), Traits (57), Carrier status (48), Drug response (20). The top five or so findings are listed below the titles.
There, staring me in the eye was the top risk Coronary Heart Disease, Your risk 57.5%.
It turns out that I have a higher risk than the average European man. The average European man has a risk of 46.8% of developing Coronary Heart Disease (basically blocked arteries). A few Google searches later, I am browsing through the British Heart Foundation statistics section on their site. Sadly this didn't give me the data I wanted (It is x% likely is it that Harry is going to die of Coronary Heart Disease), but I was drawn to a lifestyle check.
A few clicks later and I received my report. It turns out that the only area that I should improve is my eating and drinking. Less fat, less salt, cut down on drinking alcohol and eating cake. Eat more fruit and vegetables. Predictable.
In the space of reading an email and a few clicks I had seen the probability of what could end my life, and found a few ways of improving the odds. Nothing that I uncovered was a huge surprise, but what is very different, is that I am now making decisions on what I should do about it from insight in to my own personal health, rather than doing things that are recommended for good health.
Whilst going through this journey I realised that I am not going to live forever, which, to be completely honest, came as quite a surprise. My chances of getting a bunch of things that could kill me are higher than average, and another bunch of things are lower. But for the first time, I realised that death is a certainty.